JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Notes

[1] Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 162 (Translated by E. F. N. Jephcott, London and New York: Verso, 2002)

[2] Ibid., p. 132

[3] Ibid., p. 95

[4] It almost goes without saying that there is no glamour in Haneke’s films, and that he is especially hard on actresses. But I find it difficult to interpret his work as “sexist.” (The imperious Erika Kohut is not thoroughly deprived of agency and cast adrift, like the semi-retarded “suffering angels” of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark; Erika’s is a complex double movement of control and surrender, enticement and pain.) Just as Adorno’s insistence on reading women through the context of men and male domination — women as objects of control a priori — is more indicative of dialectical thinking than anything else (the whole is its parts, the parts are the whole), so Haneke is defining a context. He implies that ultimately, no realistic emancipation of women will ever be able to take place unless they can be viewed, not autonomously (as if any member of the social organization could ever be read in strictly autonomous terms) but in terms of the power structures already in place, power structures in which men, too, are objects of prior control.

This is not only to say that the ways in which women behave destructively and self-destructively are conditioned by their limited options. It also means that “emancipation” itself is as limited an option as any other. Fantasies of empowerment, based on nothing but the arbitrary and histrionic display of acts of power, are ultimately no more genuinely liberating than fantasies of masochistic victimization. True empowerment would not be based on acts of power at all, but on the ability to see society restructured along completely different principles.

[5] The character of the war photographer — standing apart from the social collective and watching its movements — has its precedent in the Jimmy Stewart character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).  In that thriller, Hitchcock establishes the idea of the “lonely crowd,” the neighbors in an apartment block living in their isolated boxes, rarely communicating; yet galvanized out of their isolation, in the end, by the intrusion of violence, murder and death.  In Code Unknown Haneke goes even further: the little girl in the next apartment, whom Anne hears being seemingly abused, becomes a potentially melodramatic, Hitchcockian subplot. But nothing in the desultory and silent routine of daily life is changed by the little girl’s mysterious death.  Even moral outrage can no longer unite people who are hopelessly isolated, or caught up in a constant struggle to defend their own “turf.” 

Proximity — the simple fact of nearness, of strangers living virtually on top of each other — is the illusion that binds the whole collective together, but it is also the intrusive reality that ultimately causes people to seek to ignore each other more and more. It is definitely not automatically equal to a healthy, integrated society whose members care about each other’s well-being.

[6] With multinational corporate capitalism spreading rapidly across the globe in the past five years, what Adorno forewarned about the links between capitalism and totalitarianism has the potential to speak more loudly to us than ever before. The hegemony of economic self-interest creates a scenario in which the last Other is stripped of his distinguishing characteristics and cheerfully folded into the herd. Whoever could have guessed that the India of Schopenhauer, of the Vedas and of earthly renunciation, would become a corporate satellite of the United States, a global capitol for the outsourcing of telephone customer service labor, whose workers are painstakingly taught to speak in Americanisms like “Cool,” “Way to go,” and “You got that right,” with no trace of an accent?

[7] I can’t help but wonder what Haneke might have done with a project like One Hour Photo (2002), a mainstream thriller about a photo-lab technician who becomes obsessed with an all-American family and begins to stalk them. Haneke would have surely made it more rigorous; and he would have attached the terrors more specifically to the mall-like superstore in which the film is set. For, in spite of some intriguing ideas, One Hour Photo ends up looking, in parts, like those ubiquitous TV commercials for Wal-Mart. While courting an atmosphere of suburban paranoia, the movie ultimately fails to indict the superstore itself as a malignant place of alienation, a place that almost forces the kind of lonely psychopathy that the technician evinces in his need to belong. In other words, the superstore is not in itself seen as a negative environment, but simply the only available environment, and one so universal and natural that it necessarily contains — in addition to the throngs of contented shoppers — its own zone of horror, madness and death. This is why U.S. cable TV channels are able to run Wal-Mart commercials during showings of One Hour Photo, whereas all commercials would seem hollow and impossible during a Haneke film.

Comparisons could also be drawn between Haneke’s films and the work of David Fincher, another modern Gothic who uses extreme violence to point toward the ultimate tendencies of a decaying, atomized social order.


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